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Which Snowboard Base is Best For You? Extruded or Sintered
A slow base is the bane of a snowboarder’s existence. It’s the difference between doing the shuffle-n-scoot on the flats or blazing by everyone like they’re standing still. What is the secret behind superior glide? Fast versus last isn’t the whole story.
The relationship between a snowboard base and snow is about interaction between the base and water, according to Salomon engineer Henri Rancon. “When a snowboard glides on the snow, some energy is lost through friction, and the kinetic energy becomes heat,” Rancon says. “This heat melts the snow into a really thin layer of water, and the base glides on this water layer.”
That’s how they glide, but which base is best to ride?
An Extruded Base Is A Carefree Base
If you want the ability to repair your own deck after casing it down concrete steps or schralping a shark-studded snowfield, then you likely want a board with an extruded base. They are cheaper to make, require less maintenance, and are easier to repair. Made by melting down polyethylene (a dense, abrasion resistant thermoplastic with low friction properties) pellets and then applying pressure, extruded bases are slower, hold less wax, and are less abrasion resistant than sintered bases. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place.
According to Palmer Snowboards engineer Martin Mitterer, “It makes no sense to sell a sintered, high-speed base to a customer who only rides 3 times a year and doesn’t wax his board. He would have much more fun with an extruded ‘carefree’ base which runs ok without waxing it in almost every condition.”
A Sintered Base Is A Performance
If you’re a competitive or speed-obsessed rider who waxes all the time and lets the pros do the repair work, than a sintered base is the ticket. Sintered bases are higher maintenance and more expensive, but faster and more durable when cared for properly. Rather than melting polyethylene pellets together (extrusion), sintered bases are manufactured by crushing the pellets together under high pressure. This makes a sintered base more porous for maximum wax absorption, and more abrasion-resistant.
Base additives can also boost glide. For Palmer’s 7200 sintered base (7200 is the molecular weight of polyethylene), graphite is added to the mix during the sintering process, hardens the plastic, and decreases base friction. Similarly, Salomon adds the mineral zeolite during the sintering process for their high-end boards to increase thermic conductivity, so more heat is absorbed by the base, resulting in better glide.
“Your base will be fast, or not, due to three things: the material, the transformation, and your wax job,” says Rancon. Transformation refers to how the base is treated near the end of production. Many companies belt grind their boards to keep costs low. But Salomon stone grinds all their boards, which is why they’ve gotten a rep for fast bases, according to Alex Warburton, Salomon’s Product Line Manager. The resulting base structure (tiny diamonds) helps melt the snow and distribute it in small drops. The drops act like ball bearings, preventing suction and reducing friction.
The final layer is wax, and that is up to you. You can buy the fastest, most tricked out base around, but if you don’t wax it, you’ll still be dragging knuckles across the flats.
And how does sidecut affect a board’s ride?
Sidecut sounds important, but it’s one of those terms that’s thrown around frequently in the snowboard world and not that well understood. Maybe that’s because it involves math and geometry—not a favorite subject for most. Simply put, sidecut is the arcing, hourglass-like curve that runs along your edge from tip to tail. How deep that curve is defines how your board turns.
If you think of the sidecut as an arc, imagine that this arc is part of a larger circle. The deeper the sidecut, the smaller the circle (and the radius). The deeper the sidecut, the sharper the board will turn. Many freestyle riders prefer a deeper sidecut.
On the other hand, a longer radius (shallower sidecut) will turn wider and is optimal for providing stability at speed and making long, arcing turns while still holding an edge.
Your board can only carve a turn that’s as long as its sidecut, ie. Ride’s DH has a 7.95-meter sidecut, which means it is only capable of carving a 7.95-meter radius turn. It’s confusing, but just envision these arcs and carves as part of a larger circle. Or let Tom Burt do the explaining.
Tom Burt, snowboarding legend, also happens to be a mathematician and is very knowledgeable about snowboard tech. Here is his take on sidecut and how he integrates it into his pro model, Winterstick’s Tom Burt Pro 172cm. (Yeah, Tom rides a 172cm board no matter where or when, and that’s the only size his board is available in.)
“I use a 11.0-meter radial sidecut,” Burt says. “Two reasons: the ability to do large to small carving turns, and control at speed. For turning, sidecut dictates the carve. If a board has a small sidecut, say 8 meters, a carve with this radius is the biggest turn it can make. If you try to do a longer turn you will have to release your edge and slide to do a longer turn, thus losing edge control during the turn. Whereas starting with a straighter sidecut will allow a long turn while carving. Of course smaller turns while carving are possible by flexing the board during a turn. Depending on the amount of force to bend the board will dictate how small of a carve can be made. A board with a 11.0-meter sidecut can be bent to carve a 8-meter turn but a board with an 8-meter sidecut can never carve an 11.0-meter turn, only eight or smaller. Control at speed is a big factor of a larger sidecut.”
While most brands have their own custom sidecut technologies, for the most part they break down into two general types: radial and progressive. A radial sidecut has an unchanging radius (arc remains consistent) along the entire side of the board. A progressive sidecut, has several different measurements as it moves along the edge. Then you throw in Magne-Traction, essentially serrated edges found on Lib-Tech, Gnu, and Rossignol boards, and you have sidecut redefined again.
Sidecut tech continues to evolve and get renamed, but the general purpose remains the same: sidecut enables your board to turn when and how you want.
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